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Missy Higgins On Life 15 Years Since ‘The Sound of White’, Songwriting & The Festival Season Ahead

Written by Sarah Bellamy on October 30, 2019

Missy Higgins’ iconic debut album Sound of White turned 15 this year. The album dominated the 2005 ARIA Awards, winning Album of the Year, Highest Selling Album, Breakthrough Artist – Album, and Best Pop Release. That year also saw Higgins win the ARIA for Best Female Artist.

Since then, the singer-songwriter has released four additional albums, including 2007’s On a Clear Night, securing her the ARIA for Best Female Artist for a second time, and 2012’s The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle which won the year’s Best Adult Contemporary Artist award at the ARIAs. The Aussie artist has also taken part in other creative pursuits, including acting in the 2009 film Bran Nue Dae and performing in the musical Miracle City at the Sydney Opera House in 2017.

Last year, Missy Higgins released her fifth studio album Solastagia, which includes single ‘Futon Couch’ – a song with a current Spotify play count of more than 6 million. She also released her first greatest hits record, The Special Ones, and supported Ed Sheeran on his Australian tour, which was the largest series of concerts Australia had ever seen.

This October and November will see Missy play a selection of festival dates, including Caloundra Music Festival, the sold-out Handpicked Festival, and Queenscliff Music Festival.

We caught up with Higgins to chat about her feelings surrounding The Sound of White, 15 years later, what fans can expect from her upcoming festival sets and artistic freedom in today’s songwriting era.

Music Feeds: It’s been 15 years since you released your debut album The Sound of White. When you reflect on that album, what comes to mind for you, about that time?

Missy Higgins: Oh god, it’s just, it’s so long ago. I mean, when I look at photos of myself from back then, you know, I was really still trying to figure out which direction to go in the, like, you know, just trying to carve my own path, I guess. I was only just out of school and I didn’t really know what sound that I wanted my music to be and suddenly, you know, this bunch of songs that I wrote – some of which I wrote when I was 15 – were being listened to by thousands of people across the country, and I think I was a little bit in shock [laughs]. I look at photos of myself and I look a bit like a rabbit in the headlights, like ‘what the hell is happening?!’

So it was, yeah, it was really intense and wonderful at times, but I’m kind of glad that I’m not still there because it was a bit exhausting.

MF: In what ways have you noticed your songwriting has changed since that time?

MH: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of hard to articulate how it’s changed, I guess. I do think that… when you first start out songwriting, it’s very instinctual and you know, the range of influences that you’re drawing from is much smaller. So, since then I’ve listened to so much more music and I’ve been influenced by so many other artists, that my music’s kind of become a bigger melting pot of influences. So, I think that I’ve been trying out different styles and different chord progressions and I’ve been stretching and pushing myself in different ways through the years. It’s hard to articulate how exactly I’ve changed, but I think that I’m getting better as the years go on, which is all you can hope for.

MF: You released the single ‘Song For Sammy’ earlier this year, are there any plans for a new album on the horizon?

MH: Hm, not really. It’s a very slow process for me, writing an album. I need a few years of decompression and [laughs] life experiences to write about. But I think also now I’m just, I’ve got a couple of kids, and it’s harder to take the time off that I used to, to write an album. I used to just… I used to go overseas and travel by myself for a year, and just write songs everywhere I went and meet new people and sleep on couches. You know. It was a really kind of, free experience. But it’s different now ‘cause I have much less time and much less ability to just kind of pack up and go.

So, I think these days it’s more gonna be like, you know, a song here and there, an EP here and there, and then eventually, probably an album, but who knows when that’s gonna happen.

MF: I think the landscape’s changed as well, in a way. A lot of people have moved into that kind of way of releasing music anyway.

MH: Yeah, which is good. I mean, I really would prefer that, to be honest, ‘cause it’s much less pressure to come up with a huge body of work and you can just write a song and record it and release it straight away, which is much more freeing, I think, for the artist.

MF: You’re playing a few different festivals in the next couple months. What can fans expect from your upcoming festival sets?

MH: Well I’ve got my full band, and we’ve got a big sound; there’s lots of kind of, backing vocals and a couple of keyboards, and guitars and drums and bass, and we all sing, and it’s a pretty amazing sound. It’s a really big sound, but then I really drop it back for a few songs here and there and just play solo, which is a nice chance to kind of connect with the audience. But I’m going to be playing a range of songs from all my albums and throwing a few new ones in there too, probably.

MF: What are you most looking forward to about playing at Queenscliff Music Festival this November? Are there any artists you’re particularly keen to see on the lineup?

MH: I’m pretty interested to see Hiatus Kaiyote, ‘cause they’re… I saw them play years ago in a tiny club in Fitzroy, but they’ve gotten pretty huge since then, and it was such an amazing performance, she’s such an incredible singer, so I’m really looking forward to seeing them play live again. And of course, Clare Bowditch, she’s a good friend of mine, I’m looking forward to seeing her. She’s got such a wonderful stage presence.

And I’m really looking forward to… I’ve got a heap of friends coming, and they’re all camping, so that’ll just be really super fun, to hang out with them at the festival.

MF: Leading on from that, what’s your favourite way to spend your downtime at a festival you’re playing at?

MH: Ah, hanging backstage with my friends, I guess. And it’s nice to connect with other artists backstage too, that I may not have met before. Or, sometimes see other artists who I have met before, and are friends with, but rarely see outside of the festival circuit, so that can be a really fun way to catch up with them.

MF: Do you have any really prominent or lovely backstage stories or memories?

MF: Let me think… I can never think of these when I’m put on the spot, sorry! I remember at Falls Festival one year, managing to get like, really high up on the side of the stage, and watch the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And Karen O with her huge cape that she came out with, and this like, diamante microphone. And it was just the most amazing performance that I’d ever seen, and I was watching her from above, and watching the whole crowd at the same time just jump up and down to every song, and sing along at the top of their voices. And I was hanging backstage with my mates and we were all way up there, watching the performance and that was really, really cool.

MF: That sounds amazing! What artists are you listening to at the moment?

MH: What artists am I listening to? That’s a good point. I mainly just listen to podcasts these days, I hardly even listen to music. I’ve been working on the music for a TV show, and mainly what I’ve been listening to is just this stuff I’ve been working on ‘cause I have to.

The first things in my iTunes folder are The Lion King Soundtrack, and the Dumbo Soundtrack [laughs].

MF: Oh, fantastic! Those are great though, let’s be real…

MH: Yeah, they are! And then I’ve got Sharon Van Etten, Weyes Blood, Firekites and then nursery rhymes [laughs]! That pretty much sums up my life! Oh, and J.S. Ondara is someone I’ve been really enjoying, this American bluegrass, kind of old blues player. Well, he’s not old, but he’s playing, like, old-style blues. It’s really cool.

MF: What’s the TV show you’re working on?

MH: It hasn’t really been announced yet, so I’m not sure if I can talk about it. But it’s an ABC TV show that I’m writing all the music for, which has been super fun. [Ed’s note: Since this interview took place, Higgins has announced the TV show she has been composing music for is ABC TV’s ‘Total Control’]

MF: Sounds fun, sounds a bit different…

MH: Yeah, yeah it is. It’s been a real challenge and so interesting, kind of, working for other people and just kind of, working to a script and you know, watching these scenes every day. So, I feel like I’ve gotten to know the characters extremely well. It’s really great, and it’s so nice to be able to work from home, too.

MF: Is it your first time doing that kind of thing?

MH: Yeah, well, I have done music for an MTC theatre show and I’ve written songs for film, but I’ve never actually done like, the music for an entire TV series.

MF: What are your plans for the rest of this year?

MH: Well, I’ve got these bunch of shows coming up at the end of the year, and… well at the moment we’re kind of just getting ready to move house. We’re moving out to a big bush block, out of town, by the river, so we’re kind of… yeah, we’re moving from the city out into the bush, and I’m really excited! So, that’s kind of like a full-time project at the moment, ‘cause we’re trying to build this house. And I’m building like, a proper recording studio, ‘cause at the moment I’m trying to record things in a chaotic house full of screaming kids and doors slamming. So, yeah, I’m just getting out into the bush and surrounded by wildlife and quietness. So, that’s the rest of this year, but then, I mean, it’s getting towards the end of the year already and I’ve got all these shows at the end of this year, and then early next year. And finishing this TV show, I guess, that’s what I’m working in at the moment!

Missy Higgins plays Queenscliff Music Festival this November. Head here for more information. 

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